October 7, 2005
[Warm Leek Salad with Fresh Walnuts]
There is a special kind of grace in the simple combination of a few ingredients that you have on hand. The resulting dish has an air of spontaneity, a certain modesty, that makes it easy to love: you didn't put much time or thought into it, there is little pressure on its shoulders to be successful, and this allows it to shine even brighter.
I was standing in the kitchen, thinking that something had to be done about the leeks sleeping in the vegetable drawer. Steaming them for a warm salad sounded nice, possibly with a lemon and olive oil dressing to tease their natural sweetness. My gaze then happened upon the fresh walnuts I had just bought from the produce store.
Fresh walnuts are simply walnuts that have been recently picked from the tree, as opposed to walnuts that have been stored for a while, causing their insides to shrivel and dry up. Fresh walnuts are a bit more difficult to break open, because their outer shell is still a little yielding, not yet rock-hard, and it doesn't shatter as cleanly as that of a dried walnut. When you open it, you find that the brain-shaped flesh takes up the whole space, and there are traces of a slightly sticky sap. The walnut inside is much moister than a dried walnut, its thin skin peels off easily, and its taste is more subtle, less woody: fresh walnuts taste grassy and alive, holding but the promise of the familiar walnut bitterness that will develop later.
This sounded like the perfect ingredient to round out my dish, giving it a third taste dimension: a bit of sweetness from the leeks, a nice tang from the lemon dressing, and a hint of bitterness from the walnuts. The salad did not disappoint: very easy to put together, the different elements worked really well as a team, creating a clean, simple and enjoyable set of flavors.
Salade Tiède de Poireaux aux Noix Fraîches
- 1.4 kg (3 lbl) whole leeks (net weight: about 700 g (1.5 lbl) leek whites)
- 6 fresh walnuts, shelled and chopped roughly (dry walnuts will work too)
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt, pepper
Trim the leeks, cutting off the hairy end and keeping only the white and pale green parts. Cut in logs (about one inch) and rinse under cool water to remove any remaining grit or sand, but making sure the logs remain whole. Steam for ten minutes, or until tender. Let cool a little.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Divide the leeks between four plates (a possible presentation is to place the leek pieces vertically, as pictured above), drizzle with the lemon olive oil, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper, and place walnut pieces around each plate. Serve immediately.
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